Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Kiss Konklusion

The time it took me to get through the Kiss Ikons project probably makes it seems like my enthusiasm for Kiss waned, which isn't exactly correct.

Actually I read Face the Music: A Life Exposed, the final of the original member autobiographies, by Paul Stanley. It's the only one of the autobiographies I'd call a really good book. The others have their moments certainly, but this one is generally compelling and inspiring. I don't always agree with him philosophically, although I liked that his was the most obviously positive.

He even - amazingly - convinced me that my Kiss dead position is not necessarily correct. Stanley's reasoning for their continuing with Tommy Thayer as the "Spaceman" and Eric Singer as the "Catman" held up for me.

I'm still wasn't terribly inspired by their most recent albums, but I'd consider revisiting them at some point, although still not enthusiastically.

I'd see their show now, which I had previously resolved not to do. Mind you, I've concluded expensive arena shows aren't for me, so that probably won't be an issue. I don't have anything against bands for putting them on or people who find them a worthwhile value for going. I just can't justify it myself.

I would go on the Kiss Kruise. I don't have the money for it, and if I had the time and money to run off on a vacation, I'd rather go back to Seattle and visit family and friends, but it looks like a good time and I wouldn't resist the urge because of the reasons I might have before, which is kind of big.

I'd also go to a Kiss Konvention, if they brought them back. Those always looked amazing The biggest thing is I generally feel good about the band again and wish them well. That's pretty cool.

Ikons - Space Ace

I'm finishing with Ace Frehley as my favorite of the Kiss Ikons, for a variety of reasons.

I don't know if it's better or worse that way. I know I'll be glad to be done with this.

Let me say that I certainly understand why the other members of Kiss find him frustrating. I started watching this video, Ace Frehley: What Really Happened at Rock Hall Induction, and found myself frustrated with his juvenile response to the compliment paid by former bandmate Gene Simmons that I had to stop watching.

That's not to say his songs aren't still amongst my favorites. That I don't love his stuff with Frehley's Comet and his solo work. I really, really do.

We'll start, as with Simmons, with the studio side of Alive II and "Rocket Ride". Largely, Frehley's sex songs are... off... a little. He's best with spaced out stuff, literally or figuratively. Here the space theme to the dirty song makes it work for me.

He really brought it on Dynasty, at least for me. On some level, the balancing act between his hard rockin' drive and the new '70s pop groove Paul Stanley found is the real strength of this album, which I think is generally underrated.

His cover of "2000 Man" even takes down The Rolling Stones, which is amazing!

He also delivered "Hard Times" on that album, which is another scorcher.

Frehley's Comet can be uneven in places, but "Breakout", co-written with former Kiss bandmate Eric Carr is a terrific, driving rock song.

"Dolls" is a cool, quirky little song that shows a side of Frehley's songwriting he didn't show often enough.

The +1 on Frehley's Comet's Live +1 is "Words Are Not Enough". It's definitely too '80s for my current taste, but I still love it. Not so secretly.

Man, "Insane" from Second Sighting ups the ante on the '80s, although nowhere near the heights Kiss was reaching at this point, but I still love it. The silly New York rock star braggadocio. Nice.

"Loser in a Fight" is probably the best song on the album. Just a taste of post-Metallica thrash to balance out the pop craftsmanship.

I still think Trouble Walkin' is the strongest of Frehley's post-Kiss career. I'd start that with "Shot Full of Rock", even with my general aversion to "pro-rock" rock songs.

He also takes ownership of of the Stanley co-written "Hide Your Heart", previously recorded by both Kiss and Bonnie Tyler

I've already admitted my sad affection for Psycho Circus, which is certainly misplaced for portions, but I genuinely and wholeheartedly enjoy "Into the Void".

Frehley's most recent solo album, Anomaly opens with the '70s throwback "Foxy & Free", which I think is fantastic.

The highlight of the album, though, for me, is "Outer Space", which really perfectly sounds classic and fresh at the same time.

He has a new album scheduled for later this year, "Space Invader", and I'm looking forward to it. I'd like to see him build on "Anomoly", which I enjoy a lot. I'd also like to see him have a continuing solo career and end the starts and stops. He certainly has the talent for it, if not always the other things necessary, which is too bad... for him, I'm sure, more than for me.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ikons - Demon

So, the Kiss Ikons project comes to Gene Simmons, in my view probably the most consistent of the Kiss songwriters.

Let me take this opportunity, too, to acknowledge that the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as expected, two days ago and from all reports the entire original band showed real class, and even seemed to show real affection for one another. None more so than Simmons, who also acknowledged Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer in a very genuine way.

Kudos, sir! And congratulations!

So, on to celebrating his later contributions to the band.

Following Love Gun, in many ways the last studio album by the original band, the band released Alive II. In order to fill out the double album without repeating material available on the earlier Alive! album, the band recorded a side of new originals.

Among these was the Simmons contribution "Larger Than Life". It is, not too surprisingly, a celebration of his sexual prowess, a recurring theme in his songwriting, but I think this one might just be his best.

On Dynasty, he contributed one solid should-be classic, "Charisma". It's a little disco-ed up, but not to a strong detriment.

The direction taken with Unmasked suited Paul Stanley and his strengths more than Simmons, but he did pull out "You're All That I Want", which is a rare love song in the Simmons catalog and a solid one at that.

Perhaps I'm misjudging in some fashion, but it feels like Simmons is the hardest on Music From The Elder of all those involved. Stanley and Ace Frehley seem more casually dismissive of it, but Simmons seems to have a real frustration and hostility.

I suspect this is because it seems very much to have been his baby. Yes, I believe Bob Ezrin initiated the notion of a Kiss concept album and was heavily involved in the shaping of it, but the concept itself, with its very comic book sensibility, seems very much Simmons, and his contributions are the strongest. I suspect the sting of its critical and popular failure are hardest on him, as, I suspect those of "Unmasked" are hardest on Stanley.

For me, it's a long time favorite, and likely the Kiss album I'd most likely take with me on a desert island, as the saying goes.

"A World Without Heroes" is, for me, just a flat-out great song. It's Simmons best ballad by far, and for me, perhaps the best Kiss ballad.

"Mr. Blackwell" is funky little rock song that I really love.

I might have chosen I, which is another strong Simmons composition, but the Stanley lead vocal puts it in another category. I might have considered Under the Rose on another day, too. As noted, I'm a fan of this album.

But Simmons really came to play on fan favorite Creatures of the Night.

"I Love It Loud", co-written by Vincent, who was not yet the band's new guitarist, makes clear the new albums intentions.

The straight up favorite for me, though, is "War Machine", a flat-out killer and one of my favorite Kiss tracks.

Lick it Up starts the non-makeup era, and it feels like Stanley understood would be better than Simmons did what the new feel of the band was, and its very much his album, in the best possible sense. "Not For the Innocent" is Simmons's strongest contribution.

"Burn Bitch Burn" off Animalize finds him getting his sea legs with the new feel of the band reasonably well.

"Murder in High Heels" has a really strong groove and is one of my favorites off this album.

Simmons doesn't have another song worth noting again until Crazy Nights. "Hell or High Water", co-written with Kulick, is a fun bit of big '80s rock.

"Thief in the Night" is a terrific song, but frustratingly neutered by the fact that it had already appeared, in stronger form, on the Simmons produced WOW by The Plasmatics.

Hot in the Shade has a nice little throwaway in "The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away".

Revenge has Simmons back to killing it. Apparently retired from the acting career he toyed with throughout the '80s, he comes out snarling here with "Unholy", co-written by former guitarist Vincent.

"Domino" is a great bluesy rocker, that is as good as anything he's done

Carnival of Souls is a sadly lost and neglected album. An album with the non-makeup lineup recorded right before the reunion with original members Frehley and Peter Criss. It's a really strong album.

It comes on the heels of the "grunge" movement and shows it's influence, but, for me, in the best way. Kiss was a big, obvious influence on the sound of "grunge" and Kiss feels here, to me, like they're reclaiming their position.

They start right out with "Hate", which sets a real tone for the album to come.

I also really love "Childhood's End", which has a really genuine feeling. No, I can't quite figure out what he's talking about, but I'm continually intrigued and even moved by it.

Psycho Circus, the reunion album, I think, suffers from feeling trying too hard to sound like "classic" Kiss, but one of the standouts is "Within", which doesn't, in part because it's a leftover track from the "Carnival of Souls" album.

"We Are One" is one of the big "reunion" styled songs, but I like it a lot. It feels so good.

"It's My Life" is another song that was originally on the Plasmatics's "WOW" album. This was finally recorded by Kiss during the "Psycho Circus" sessions, and released on the Kiss Box Set. It's a killer number and, unlike "Thief in the Night", Kiss really holds their own on it and equal or better the Plasmatics version.

Asshole, Simmons non-Kiss solo album is a mixed bag to say the least. The title song is terrible and the cover of "Firestarter" by The Prodigy is flat-out embarrassing.

"Waiting For the Morning Light", co-written by Bob Dylan, is a solid, sincere effort, perhaps too much so.

The highlight is "Carnival of Souls", another song from the "Carnival of Souls" era, not too surprisingly, and it's a good song. I suspect a version recorded by the '90s era Kiss would have been better than the version we ultimately got, but I do like it.

I don't have anything else left to say about Simmons and his contributions really. They speak for themselves, I guess. His strongest stuff really defines Kiss in a way, for better and worse, and I think he's a terrific songwriter and performer... or can be.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nirvana induction

Look, I'm deeply conflicted about and suspicious of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

They've done a lot of shitty things, as I touched on in In & out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The omissions are frequently lunatic. They are also very dedicated to a very specific view of "rock and roll" that does not ultimately match mine in many important ways.

And yet, the inductions do lead to wonderful things. Some of the 26 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Reunions That Actually Happened are more than a little overblown, bullshit even, but others are genuinely moving and wonderful. I particularly got misty at The Ronettes.

It seems to me that the induction of Nirvana has particularly lived up what it can be at its best.

Does it matter if the burying of the hatchet between Courtney Love and the rest of the band was a show? It was a good show. A show of the legacy being more important than the differences in the end.

And performing? I've dipped into the YouTube clips, but I mostly want to wait and really absorb the performance with decent sound when it airs on HBO. However I saw enough to get a strong impression that they captured the most important and compelling aspects of the band, at least as well as they could without Kurt, especially that blistering performance with Kim Gordon.

But really the excitement is this story: Nirvana plays surprise show after Rock Hall induction. You probably know that already.

Is there a precedent for that?

Look, I think people got excitable calling it a Nirvana concert. Dan Solomon wrote tweet that summed that up, "The same people who make fun of The Doors (w/ Ian Astbury) or Sublime With Rome are pretending they saw Nirvana last night. It’s just doofy."

Have any of those other 26 Hall of Fame reunions done anything like that?

Those other bands obviously had much different reasons for not reuniting. If The Byrds, for example, had followed up the momentum of their induction performance with a full-blown reunion, it would not have, by its very existence, detracted from their legacy. It would simply have been one of the reunions, of one sort or other, they had over the time since their break-up, or members leaving and returning.

The Hall of Fame induction provided a rather unique opportunity to pay tribute to that legacy, and I think it was great they were able to jump on that opportunity. I think it's amazing that they were able to take advantage of it and did so. That set-list is just perfect.

The people who got to see that show do indeed have every reason to be excited to see such a monumental show. I'm sure it was amazing, and I do not lack for envy at their privilege, although perhaps I feel a bit less so for having indeed seen undeniable, no quotation marks Nirvana.

More, I feel it was wonderful for Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear that they were able to celebrate something so wonderful and meaningful to the world, and I'm sure themselves, that isn't always easy or comfortable to find a context to play those songs again and really celebrate them. That's absolutely great.

In the course of my geeking out over this, I came across Kurt Cobain would have despised his Hall of Fame induction by Sean Beaudoin.

Is that likely? I mean, he went and accepted a lot of VMAs for a guy who would have despised being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, didn't he? I acknowledge that his ambivalence toward these things was almost certainly genuine, but I think it was clearly ambivalence and not simple distaste.

I'm pretty happy to take his mom's word that he would have been proud, but said he wouldn't. That sounds about right to me.

But does that matter? Does it matter what it would have meant to Kurt or does it matter what it means now for Krist, Dave, Pat, Courtney, Frances, his mother and sister and many other personally involved with Nirvana as well as millions of fans?

I've got on Pay to play, my Nirvana Spotify playlist, and I'm celebrating my glee that Mudhoney tweeted a picture of Dan Peters, Jack Endino, Dale Crover and Chad Channing, in attendance yesterday.

That seems to me as good a justification for my full endorsement of this event as I need.

This band is the establishment now.

UPDATE: I wanted to add The Inside Story Of Nirvana's One-Night-Only Reunion by Andy Greene, which I think is a glorious and exciting account of the events.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In & out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Let's briefly interrupt our Kiss Ikons celebration. This will split it in half, and bring back the issues raised in Kiss off, so it seems relatively appropriate.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame doesn't induct, or doesn't just induct, a band name into its roster. It inducts a group of individuals that makeup that band. Largely, the rule itself has caused little controversy. One of the chief original ideas for it was, at least on the surface, was to avoid inducting the names of bands that no longer had original members, this was especially an issue with singing groups, many of whose names were owned by a record company or management group, and were touring, and occasionally even recording, under the name, but had no other real connection to the history.

As such, I think it's a very good idea in principle. Probably even necessary.

However, it does require setting where those limits are, which has been less successful. That seems to be really coming apart at the seams this year, as has been much discussed.

Kiss guitarist, drummer join list of snubs by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Mike Boehm lists some of this complicated history.

This year marks two groups, Kiss and Nirvana, being inducted. Both bands have a clear "classic" lineup in the public imagination. Peter, Ace, Gene and Paul. Kurt, Krist and Dave.

However, both have much more complicated histories than that, which is where the controversy lies.

In these and other cases the trouble seems to lie in the lack of a standard by which they gauge what makes a member worth induction.

In 1996, as noted in the article above, Doug Yule was left out of the Velvet Underground list, despite being on more VU recordings than John Cale, significantly more when one notes that the majority of songs on both popular "rarities" collections, VU and Another View, which were a large part of the rediscovery of the band, were recorded with Yule. One might also note that the VU songs one is almost certain to hear on the radio, on the rare occasions one might hear VU songs on the radio, "Rock & Roll" and "Sweet Jane" basically, were recorded with Yule.

The Artist Formerly Unknown as Doug Yule by Jennifer Yule covers some of the details of that, along with much else worth reading, I think.

The whole thing has the stink of politics, but if the Hall of Fame were to be what it aspires to be, and claims to be, it should be above such things, or at least appear above such things.

Having no clear standard, even one that allows for a bit of abstraction in one direction or the other, would allow them to be able to defend the choices on historical or artistic grounds. The answers we get now are fuzzy.

I covered the controversies surrounding the Kiss members selected for induction, and my thoughts, in my post "Kiss off", linked above.

There has been a similar, but smaller fuss over the inclusion or non-inclusion of original Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, which most Nirvana fans supported. The up-to-date news, per Nirvana’s Ex-Drummer Chad Channing Won’t Be Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Brian Ives among other sources, is that he won't be.

I think Chad should be in. How does that fit with my disagreement with Kiss over their new guys? Certainly, when it appeared Chad was being included, there was a lot of "If Chad Channing is inducted, shouldn't Tommy Thayer be inducted too?", although I suspect some of that was manufactured by the media. Does that mean every passing member of every band should be inducted with them for historical accuracy?

Here, I'll give a standard. We'll see if that helps.

"Contributed in a significant fashion to Rock & Roll history as a member of the inducted band, especially as part of their musical and artistic legacy."

You see, it's fuzzy. It could use work, I think, but it's a start.

Channing helped build the Nirvana sound in the early years. Not only playing on the bulk of Bleach, their first album, but touring with them for two years, playing and creating a great number of the songs that would make up Nevermind, including demoing many of them. Dave is on record as noting the influence of Chad's playing on how he approached drumming for Nirvana, including how little he changed in the style of songs they re-recorded from earlier demos that Chad played on.

That's a pretty inarguable significance to the overall history of the band and, as such to Rock & Roll history, as it applies to the significance of Nirvana, who is being inducted.

It's a much more tangible artistic significance than I personally can find for Eric Singer, who I have no beef with. I just don't see him as more than a footnote in the history of Kiss. He has successfully toured as part of their glorified "greatest hits" package for a lot of years, he appears on two albums that no one outside obssessive fans, myself included, have heard. He's a good drummer and probably a good guy. Most likely a better drummer and better guy than Peter, who obviously has a number of personal problems.

However, Peter is the one who "contributed in a significant fashion to Rock & Roll history as a member of the inducted band, especially as part of their musical and artistic legacy."

Mind you, I think Eric Carr qualifies by that definition as well.

It's fuzzy still. I don't know how you could create a definition that didn't leave a little fuzzy area.

But if we look at the other members of Nirvana, it helps, for me, clear it up.

Dale Crover, of The Melvins, is the only other player I'd even consider qualifying. He played on a 10 song demo the band recorded with Jack Endino to secure their deal with SubPop Records. 3 of those songs were included on "Bleach", 4 of those songs were included on Incesticide, the "rarities" collection released between "Nevermind" and In Utero, and 2 more of them were eventually included on With the Lights Out box set. Those recording are electrifying and, for me, among the best things the band ever recorded.

The problem is that the drum sound he creates with them is a dead end, at least in terms of Nirvana. Chad had his own style. Dave had his own style, that included elements begun by Chad. But nothing familiar to the public sounds like the Crover stuff, for better or worse. In terms of the band achieving success on the scale they did, and needed to for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one assumes, they probably needed to move on from that sound. One notes that Crover's band is not being considered for inclusion, despite enormous artistic achievements.

(As a total side note, I just saw The Melvins's King Buzzo doing an acoustic set in support of his album This Machine Kills Artists, which was fucking fantastic. If you get a chance to see him, I highly recommend it.)

If you want historical completeness, then there are others, but I can't bring myself to think the full barrage of Nirvana players should be listed.

Jason Everman, was credited on "Bleach", but only played on "Do You Love Me?", their Kiss cover, of all things, that can only be found on Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation.

(Hard to believe now that album was released long enough ago that anyone would think a compilation of Kiss covers would be "hard to believe".)

For the record, while I'm not endorsing Everman's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame, you should still read The Rock & Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero by Clay Tarver, if you have not, in order to find out more about Everman and his life since Nirvana.

I can't come up with an argument for Everman's conclusion. He was hired in part for his Heavy Metal presence, which matched, in part, the sound the band had on "Bleach", recorded before he joined, and that was largely abandoned after he left. I can't see that he contributed significantly to the artistic or musical legacy.

Dan Peters is wonderful, and if I handled the nomination process myself, would be inducted as a member of Mudhoney. The single he played on is "Sliver", which has much larger significance. It might be the first record they released that sounded like "Nevermind", it had a video on MTV, etc., but the demos recorded with Chad previous to that shows that to merely be the direction the band was moving in. Peters was, by most reckonings, a placeholder in Nirvana.

Pat Smear, of The Germs, yet another band I'd induct into my Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, toured with Nirvana for "In Utero", played with them on Unplugged, but doesn't seem to have made a meaningful contribution to the band, aside from allowing Kurt more comfort with his live guitar playing during that period, due to having back-up.

No one wants me to examine Aaron Burckhard, Dave Foster or Melora Creager for inclusion potential, do they?

I can imagine a future in which Pat Smear and Melora Creager's contributions to Nirvana's sound from "Unplugged" along with that tour could have evolved into something more significant in their musical legacy, but sadly that was not to be.

Ultimately, I don't find a significant justification for anyone other than Chad in Nirvana by the standard I applied, and none of those I failed to include by that standard that made me re-think the standard itself.

In writing this, I've noted that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's induction process for members of inducted bands is unnecessarily arbitrary, at least from artistic and historic perspectives. I've also noted three bands associated with Nirvana - The Melvins, Mudhoney and The Germs - that I feel have made significant enough contributions to rock & roll and have not been, and almost certainly will never be, inducted. I suspect the flaws in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in practice certainly, although likely in theory as well, are finally showing through the nice show they put on of themselves.

Probably only to huge music dorks like me, right? And different dorks have different issues, so we do little to help each other.

I know many people who gave up thinking about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's much the same as me finally giving up on the Oscars a few years back, I'm sure, and that's a decision I've never, ever regretted.

And yet, despite saying all of that, I'll almost certainly be watching on HBO when it airs, because... it's fucking Nirvana, and for me, if only this once more, that makes it worth pretending, one more time, that it means something real. I'll pretend really, really hard.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ikons - Catman

The next of the Kiss Ikons up for celebration today is the Catman, Peter Criss.

Criss's Kiss solo album, Peter Criss, basically answers the question of why he has struggled for success outside the group. He was tied to the group and his fame largely among the group's fans. His being a member of the group was probably not even detrimental to getting attention outside the group's fans.

And yet, as someone with rather catholic musical taste, I think under other circumstances, his solo stuff could have found an audience. I really enjoy a lot of it.


The other problem is that, while it certainly seems more than pleasant and entertaining enough to have earned some hits under another set of circumstances, it's hardly so amazing that most of us in the Kiss fan base who do appreciate his work want to run to scream to our non-Kiss fan friends how great it is and how they should give it a chance.

And, it's probably important, it's groovy R&B rather than ballads.

Hard rock fans, it's important to note, love ballads and always think they're important. No amount of musical complexity or tonal interest of any other sort serves to prove the seriousness of their favorite bands to a hard rock fan than a ballad.

On Kiss's next group album, Dynasty, Criss only sings - or apparently performs at all - on one song, which is "Dirty Livin'", and it's a pretty good one.

He's credited as being a part of the group on Unmasked, but does not sing or have any songwriting credits, and apparently did not drum on the album either, for that matter.

He does jump right out of the gate with Out of Control, which features some solid faux-Kiss in songs like "In Trouble Again".


I think it does much better when it gets into a solid groove, such as with "You Better Run", a Young Rascals cover that might be the best cover that Criss would sing in his career.

I think his next solo album, Let Me Rock You might be his strongest solo work.


"Bad Boys" is probably my favorite of his solo songs, certainly of his "true" solo works (as opposed to the ambiguous Kiss solo albums), and a song that certainly couldn't realistically have found a place on a Kiss album, most likely not even the softer groove they got into with "Unmasked".


Obviously, the Catman post needs to include "The Cat", right?


For, Cat #1, Criss brings back former bandmate Ace Frehley for some songs, including the fairly credible "Bad Attitude", which has a nice, well, attitude.


It's an uneven album for me, despite my desire for it to be great, but it does have a number of sincere moments, such as "The Truth" that keep it worthwhile.


Criss's only vocal on Psycho Circus is a vocal for a song he didn't write, an unmemorable ballad called "I Finally Found My Way", written by Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin.

After leaving Kiss again, he'd record One for All, a ballad heavy album with too much lounge and not enough of the grooves that are his strongest point. "Falling All Over Again" has a definite sincerity worth giving credit to.


The highlight is probably vaguely Beatles-esque attack on former bandmate Frehley with "Space Ace", which definitely feels inspired and sincere.


I've gotta say. I went into this one with a good feeling. I like to occasionally post songs like "That's the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes" and "Bad Boys" on my Facebook wall. In the end, it was kind of a drag, I'm sorry to say.

With word of Criss's autobiography, Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss being the most bitter of the bunch - whether that's true or not, or fair on his part, I'm not certain - and all of the brouhaha around performing at the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, that made them all look bad, whether fairly or not, some of the joy of celebrating the Catman slipped away, and without the joy of feeling his groove and feeling generally positively toward him as a guy, it's hard to see the bulk of his work as not simply the weakest link in the original Kiss chain.

Like I said, though, those highlights really are terrific, I think. This is definitely a case where the "balance" of covering his career from that point misses that "Peter Criss" and "Let Me Rock You" are both solid all the way through and underrepresented on this post. If any of this interested you, go check those out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ikons - Starchild

So, in discussing Paul Stanley, we'll start with Paul Stanley.

It's a solid album. In some ways, Stanley might have been the one who made the most interesting choices with his solo album. It's not the one the Kiss Army jumps up to celebrate. It doesn't sound like what the band had been doing before, on their original six albums, but he seems to take it seriously. He also very clearly signals the direction he was going musically, even if that wasn't his intention at the time.

The opener, "Tonight You Belong to Me" is solid moderate rocker and sounds a lot like what he'd contribute to the Kiss in the next few years.

For me, I really like "Ain't Quite Right", though.

It's a great not-quite-Kiss song that fits the concept of the solo album perfectly.

"Love in Chains" is the one that sounds like the best example of where Stanley would take his contributions to the band.

Certainly, it's where he would take the best ones.

Stanley has two major contributions to Dynasty, the somewhat controversial seventh album, and they are certainly key points of the controversy.

That shit sure is catchy, though, isn't it?

I actually like "Sure Know Something" better, and it even holds up on Unplugged.

Hell, I think it might be better that way. It shows off just how solid a pop song it is.

I'm not sure whether to give "Is That You?" as a choice from Unmasked, as it is a rare song not written by a Kiss band member, aside from the occasional cover in the early days.

I really like it, though. We're continuing to veer away from the classic Kiss sound, but the sound we've come to is pleasant and entertaining to me. I wonder what a more integrated Kiss might have managed with some of the songs from this period. He seems to largely be continuing with the sound from his solo album here. In a sense, they all do, just bringing it together onto individual songs on each album.

Let me acknowledge here that I actually do like Shandi, although I'm not highlighting it here. It's a good little ballad. It's almost certainly my favorite Kiss ballad of the '80s and beyond.

"Tomorrow" is an unheralded classic, though. If it were given a less slick production and featured on Love Gun, it'd make all of the Kiss collection albums.

I like "Easy As It Seems", too, actually. I think "Unmasked" is a better album than its reputation suggests, although I don't care for Vini Poncia's production on it. Interesting, because I actually rather like his production on "Dynasty" overall. I think if this was given Destroyer - Resurrected treatment with new mixes, in this case, harder, rawer mixes, I think it could get more credit for how good the material on it is.

I sincerely, whole-heartedly and un-ironically love Music From The Elder. If you need proof of my unabashed Kiss fandom, what more could you need? It really does seem more of a Bob Ezrin inspired project and Gene Simmons appears to have had the largest role, as band members go.

Lest you think I'm alone in my madness, though. There's this.

I do not have any Kiss action figures, but I would total get a set of Elder-era figures if they put them out. Original Eric Carr as The Fox and Simmons with his Samurai look. Yep.

Killers, the next Kiss release, has eight previously released hits, and four new songs, all four are Stanley tracks and all four are genuine killer tracks.

At this point, on the other side of a couple of albums that neither pleased their base and did little to further their in-roads to a more general audience, there just wasn't a place to sell this return to form.

Hell, even Creatures of the Night, awesome though it is, by nearly any standard, didn't manage.

This album seems more a showcase of Simmons singing and songwriting. Some blend of Stanley's "Killers" tracks and the tracks on "Creatures of the Night" would have most likely perfectly balanced the aesthetics of their combined enthusiasm for a resurgent band, even with Peter Criss gone during/after "Unmasked" and Ace Frehley on his way out during this period.

By all accounts, the attention drawing makeup removal that came with the album Lick It Up was Stanley's plan to revitalize the band and certainly it did bring attention to them, and they delivered an album to match.

Now, what the fuck that song's supposed to be about, I have no idea.

Yeah, I know you think it's something obvious or something, but take whatever you think it is, and figure it out in the context of the words he says. Then when you go, "Oh, well, maybe it's this then!", if you're like me, that won't make any sense either.

I'm tempted to include A Million to One, which is a very solid little power ballad, but who can resist this crazy Kiss rap & roll nonsense that shouldn't work, but it does... at least for me.

I'm not sure exactly what happened between "Lick It Up" and Animalize, aside from the sacking of Vinnie Vincent. Perhaps that's all it took, because the loss of energy between the two albums is palpable.

This one is hard to argue with, though. It's easy to see why they wanted to revive this number during the reunions.

This is the period that Stanley somewhat owned the hit making of, so it's hard not to pick their hits. The albums are solid, but they really are about the hits, which Stanley is still delivering.

Oh, Asylum. I saw you coming.

This being solidly into the '80s none of these songs quite sound good as records, but this one has a really good, driving energy and some slick Bruce Kulick guitar work on his offical debut.

"Time Traveler" was recorded during this time, and wasn't released until the Kiss Box Set, but is one of the best Stanley songs from the period.

The "destined for the remainder bin" cover ensured Hot in the Shade would never be well regarded in the Kiss catalog, but it really is where this lineup seems ready to gel.

Even the production is starting to suck less as the '80s come to a close.

Revenge feels like an album created to leave the '80s behind. It's not quite there, all the way through, but it has a solid sound all the way through and, most importantly, it does rock.

Stanley seems to have solidly moved out of the neighborhood of "Uh! All Night" and "Let's Put the X in Sex" that made him the most embarrassing member for a while.

Yes, in his defense, he was clearly working very hard to keep the band together during that period and trying to keep them relevant and on the charts. More importantly, he was able to come back with material like this.

I really like Carnival of Souls. I don't know if that makes me a traitor as a 40-something Seattleite or if it's just natural for me as a 40-something Seattleite Kiss fan.

In hindsight, I think it would have been much more interesting for the world of music if this lineup had toured, arranging their setlist around the sound they were developing here. I think they could have found more in their older material than they might have and could have grown in an even more interesting direction.

I have always been a sentimental fuck and now I'm a father. There's no way for me to resist this one.

I guess I like Psycho Circus more than most. I certainly like the concept. I like the notion of the circus theme, previously threatened with the title of "Carnival of Souls". Yeah, it's a little underdone here, too. The tie-in comic book would struggle with turning the concept into something that works as well, although I liked that more than others, as well, and perhaps more than either deserved.

There's a lot of stuff about unity and stuff like that on the album, all of which seems pretty hollow in retrospect.

It worked well enough at the time, although perhaps if they'd developed the "Psycho Circus" concept into something, instead of taking the opportunity to just celebrate a reunion that was only half real... if that. If you close your eyes and pretend it was real, it's pretty invigorating, though.

Which leads us to Paul's solo album, Live To Win. It's back to being a little slicker and more polished than I prefer, although this is a point on which he and I do not agree, we must assume, but it has material I quite like.

I can't imagine there's a better place than this to leave Mr. Stanley. He's not my favorite Kiss member, and, for a guy who is so very responsible for Kiss's success, writing beloved hits, putting in years and years of touring, writing and just balls out rocking, I have to admit, he doesn't get nearly enough respect from guys like me, including me personally.

This song seems to perfectly encapsulate what he stands for, and that seems to me to be a fine thing.

Kiss - Ikons

It seems like every time it occurs to me to write specifically about the band Kiss, it's because I feel bitchy about their choices. It occurs to me, however, that this doesn't accurately capture the fact that I feel bitchy specifically because I'm a fan, so perhaps I ought to write something to celebrate them.

Now, to do this I thought it would make sense to do something interesting. So, I'm skipping the first six albums, Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill, Destroyer, Rock & Roll Over and Love Gun. These albums form the basis of their reputation. Discussion, examination and celebration of these albums can be found all over the place.

What I'm going to do is look over each of the four Kiss Ikons, one by one, and go through each of their careers as they follow. This is a good separation point. Those first six albums sound like a band in way they were never quite able to return to. I think the post-makeup incarnations attempted at times to bring that back, especially with Revenge and the ill-fated Carnival of Souls, but it never quite seemed to gel.

What if the Kiss Solo Albums Never Happened? by Rev. Phantom hypothesizes the start of a world where the solo albums are replaced by a seventh Kiss album. It uses the same separation... Well, everyone does, whatever their hypothesis, don't they?

It's ok, though, Kiss's strength was never albums, despite some having some of those early one's having reputations as "albums" rather than collections of solid rock & roll numbers, which I think they are, and they continued throughout to produce plenty of highlights. They just have periods of much stronger groups of songs than others.

I'm starting with Paul Stanley, partly because he compels me the least, although he has created more than his share of Ikonic Kiss songs.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Kiss off

Kiss, as most of you have probably heard, are being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a dubious honor at best, but one which the Kiss Army had gotten excited for.

I already declared Kiss Dead, which nothing, including an album that followed that article, has convinced me the band is really a an actual living creative organism, rather than the world's most expensive Kiss Tribute Band, which is, in a sense, fine.

The problem is that in rock & roll, there's still something disgraceful about touring about and flogging your old hits and not being a creative force. I'm not sure how many musical figures were major creative forces into their 60s, but few, if any, of them have been in rock & roll. I think we should drop that silly myth that they should be.

Now, continuing members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have decided not to perform at the induction at all because they were unable to come up with an arrangement to play with or without fellow original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

In the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Statement From Kiss, they state, "Our intention was to celebrate the entire history of KISS and give credit to all members including long time present members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, and additionally Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr all who have made this band what it is, regardless of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's point of view."

It's well set-up. No Kiss fan can be happy that Eric Carr isn't being inducted with the band. He did two albums in makeup, as The Fox, and was always a fan favorite, a nice guy, a fellow fan, an enthusiastic band member and stellar drummer.

Bruce Kulick also comes across like a terrific guy, a good player, all-around positive force in the band and it's music for a dozen years.

However, an observer can easily note that a couple of names at least are missing from their official statement, in a way that hardly seems accidental. Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John, both of whom are officially on one Kiss album each, although Vincent has songwriter credits on three albums and is now acknowledged to have been the major guitarist on Creatures of the Night, an album whose reputation has grown considerably in the 30 years since its release.

Here are some Kiss songs co-written by Vinnie Vincent, "I Love It Loud", "Lick It Up", "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" and "Unholy". These are songs that are familiar outside of the Kiss Army. They are not, assuredly, the biggest hits in Kiss's history, but I bet you could find 50 people on the street who recognized one or more those songs to every 1 that Tommy Thayer wrote or played on.

And, hey, I agree that Vinnie Vincent seems like a raging asshole and his Vinnie Vincent Invasion material is straight up embarrassing. And Tommy Thayer might well be another great dude and if he has embarrassing solo material, I've never heard it.

On the other hand, if you turn on the radio and hear a Kiss song, how likely is it that it's not only the original lineup, but from their first six albums. I don't mean that as a dismissal of their career since then. I'm a fan, for better or worse, and I like a lot of the things they've done in the 35 years since Love Gun, but I'm realistic enough to know what their legacy is.

A lot has been variously made, by fans as well as the band, of fact that Thayer and Eric Singer have been in the band longer than Frehley and Criss, but I think that ignores the basic fact that Thayer and Singer are not only specifically performing the "roles" that Frehley and Criss originated, but the sounds they developed and, in the vast majority of cases, playing songs that Frehley and Criss originally played on. I don't mean to disrespect what they've done over the last years, although I'm sure it comes across that way, but I don't see how they deserve to be inducted at all, even less above Vinnie Vincent.

But the question I found myself with is, what were Simmons and Stanley imagining as a career spanning performance. It seems to me that most performers do two or three songs. Last year they showed two performances by Heart, one with the classic lineup, including Howard Leese, and another couple from the current lineup, which made enough sense. And admittedly, those were all classic lineup songs and I wasn't entirely comfortable with that arrangement, although it's worth noting that none of the current members are listed on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Heart Biography as being inducted as members of the band.

I am now curious how exactly later members qualify. Quite a number of fellows are listed as being inducted according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Rolling Stones Biography, for instance.

In the early '90s, they could have managed a nice bit of continuity, done "Rock and Roll All Nite" or "God of Thunder", probably the former, I know, in make-up, and then done "Beth". The lights could have slowly faded as the song came to an end, Simmons and Stanley could have gotten offstage as Criss sat in the spotlight and returned with Kulick and Singer out of makeup and done a post-makeup hit, probably one of the songs I mentioned as being co-written by Vinnie Vincent, although perhaps "Heaven's On Fire".

Now, what would you do? What did they propose or imagine they could work with that would honor all of that and would make logistical sense? How do you slide a performance that honors the non-make-up period in there or was that brought into the argument, as I suspect, somewhat disingenuously?

I think the only real way you could show the legacy of the band would be to have Criss, Frehley, Simmons and Stanley, four total pricks, none of whom, I suspect, can stand another of them at this point, although obviously Simmons and Stanley have found a way to put up with each other, no make-up, one last hurrah of the original band, symbolically naked and only presenting the music and sound they originated together, for the sake of celebrating its enshrinement into whatever it is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to represent. Thanks to the Kiss Army for working so hard to get them there.

Oh, well.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Sometimes life comes along and makes sure you can't feel too original. In this case, I'm a 42 year old from the Seattle area and my once and future favorite band is... Nirvana.

Oh, they're not always my favorite band of the moment, but as much as I come back to them and how I feel when I do, they are definitely my favorite band overall in this lifetime.

I think I started this round of binging with the news of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition of In Utero. I've listened to that a few times now. It's great to hear. I'm especially happy the original Steve Albini mixes of "Heart Shaped Box" and "All Apologies" are finally officially released. Sometimes when you've lived with something long enough, you grow used to it and the greatness is taken for granted. It's good to get a jolt sometimes to get yourself to really listen again and appreciate it.

"In Utero" is a special case for that, carrying with it the legacy of Kurt Cobain's death.

In Q & A: Dave Grohl on Kurt's Last Days and the Making of "In Utero" by Jeff Kravitz, Dave Grohl is quoted as saying "The album should be listened to as it was the day it came out. That's my problem with the record. I used to like to listen to it. And I don't anymore, because of that. To me, if you listen to it without thinking of Kurt dying, you might get the original intention of the record. Like my kids. They know I was in Nirvana. They know Kurt was killed. I haven't told them that he killed himself. They're four and seven years old. So when they listen to 'In Utero', they'll have that fresh perspective – the original intention of the album, as a first-time listener.

"Someday they will learn what happened. And it'll change that. It did for me."

It did for everyone, I think. That and Nirvana Unplugged feel the most haunted. It's one of the many odd, even ironic, twists of Nirvana's legacy in that both felt vigorous and filled with life prior to Kurt's death.

Listening to it again, I got some of that back. A tremendous gift really.

Temporarily at least, the experience made me think I was up to finally reading Heavier Than Heaven by Charles Cross. This turned out to be not entirely accurate. Oh, I got through it, so I can check it off my list of things to do, so there's that. Frankly, among the things I'll credit it with doing a good job of stoking a lot of feelings and memories that I didn't necessarily want to revisit. Nor did I find it particularly productive to do so.

So, while it's on my mind, I'll share my thoughts on it.

First of all, it includes remarkably little praise for Bleach, the band's first album. Everything except "About a Girl", is dismissed entirely by nearly everyone quoted. This is odd to me, since where I come from, this is a popular album overall. If anything it suffers from too much hipster praise as their best album for the sole virtue of it being less well-known as well as less accessible.

I'm being terribly unfair and hypocritical is saying this of course, as I have at various times called The Crover Demo, the 10 song demo they recorded with Dale Crover of The Melvins under the supervision of Jack Endino to secure their deal with SubPop Records.

(There are some interesting details on the recording of that demo at Jack Endino's Nirvana FAQ.)

On the right day, I'd still consider giving that answer. It really is a fantastic collection of recordings. I even prefer that version of Spank Thru, which was re-recorded later due to the band's dissatisfaction with that recording. I'd question my motivations in giving that answer, suspecting more than a good share of pretentiousness, but not my taste.

My second thought on the Charles Cross book is that it feels, to me as an observer, like much of it loses the forest for the trees. He's did a lot of fantastic research and it shows, there are details and facts that I never read anywhere else, but somehow it never really evokes a three-dimensional person of Kurt Cobain for me.

Don't get me wrong, we're all to complicated to be "captured" in all of our depth and complexity by a single volume, however if you read Come As You Are, the official biography written by Michael Azerrad, it evokes a person. It's an officially sanctioned book and probably pretties up some details that Cross goes into more depth on, but it feels like it finds an essence of some kind that you can latch onto.

The third and last note I wanted to point out is the ending where he plays out Kurt's final days in a novel style. I have no issue with the speculation based on the facts, but I'm uncomfortable seeing it done so nakedly without any clarification where the speculation begins and ends. It's particularly frustrating for me because it never really captures Kurt as a fully rounded person well enough to make this convincing enough to not stand out as a gross presumption.

As it happens, while reading too many details about some aspects of Nirvana's career might not be good for my mental state, for a whole variety of reasons, nothing is more cathartic and life-affirming for me as listening to a shit-ton of their music. I've generally moved onto my Spotify Playlist. Unlike a lot of my playlists, which are fairly complete discographies with only a couple of songs removed or substituted for live or other alternate versions, my Nirvana playlist is kind of a somewhat living organism that I tinker with constantly. It has very few of the original recordings, all of which I've listened to hundreds of times.

In some cases the alternate versions reflect versions selected largely for their novelty, however some, such as the version of All Apologies recorded at the 1992 Reading Festival, are most assuredly my preferred versions. And, of course, some of the alternate versions are growing on me. All due respect to Butch Vig in particular, I do prefer my Nirvana rough and a little sloppy... I prefer most things that way, I suppose, but I'm rambling on about Nirvana right now.

I also put on the full OK Hotel Concert from 1991. This show is famous for being the first performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I was watching it while Conan was running around playing. He would stop occasionally and rock out, but mostly went on about the business of play.

Anyone doubting the continuing legacy and power of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", let me tell you this...

Conan is a super-duper music loving kid. Kim introduced him to Can't Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and he was regularly singing a very clear and recognizable version of it, even if he couldn't make out the words. He even did the "Macklemo-oh-ore" bit. Then he discovered Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus, which he also did a decent job of.

(I wouldn't have ever bothered to notice the similarity between the Mylie Cyrus song and that fucktastic Goiter-guy's intolerable earworm from a year or two back, if I hadn't heard it sung by a two-year-old in "nah-nah-nahs", trying to figure out what it is.)

Out of all of these songs, Conan picked that out to sing.

This is not some polished, nice version. This is a punk rock thumping on a still incomplete song. You can click the link under the song's title above to see. He picked it out and sung it for the rest of the night... at least until his mommy came home and I wanted him to show off his awesome new discovery, of course.

The years have been awkward for this punk band with pastiche lyrics that feature more than their share of throwaway bumper-sticker humor lines. The selling of Kurt Cobain has made him into a ghost before his time, a sad poet, an enigmatic rock tragedy.

I grew up in suburban Washington, not far from the another of its rural industrial areas, mine was Snohomish County, his was Grays Harbor County, it's not an insignificant difference, I know, but in this context it's similar enough for my recognition. I recognize the humanity of Kurt through all of that without any problem. He never seems (or seemed) much different than the folks I grew up around. That was the appeal all along.

The Kurt sold now on giant posters, t-shirts and whatever else you can find, doesn't feel like that to me at all. He's a stereotype, a character from a mediocre '70s b-movie... although certainly one I would have seen. I imagine an over-earnest rip off of Phantom of the Paradise or maybe Wild in the Streets, for some reason.

But I'm coming back to the point that if I turn it up, enjoy the interplay between Kurt's guitar and Krist Novoselic's bass and any of the tremendous drummers, the way Kurt uses his voice as another instrument in the mix, blending steam-of-consciousness lyrics with seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics with silly references with heartfelt statements of his inner feelings, it all just slips away. The stereotype-for-sale suicide star drops out and the same old comfortable person slips in and I feel all the same excitement I felt 20 years ago and more.

The generic complaint against Nirvana has always been that it's "depressing". I don't remember hearing it too often when they were together, but after Kurt's death, everyone who made it seemed assured that they had "always" said so. Who am I to argue?

The striking thing to me is that it's not. It's incredibly exciting. It makes me excited to be alive. I remember that being my reaction to hearing it the first time.

"Holy fuck! Someone's saying that. That's amazing."

Even something like Negative Creep. If anything has a right to sound like a downer, it's that - Well, and Downer, I suppose. - but it doesn't. It sounds like a fucking celebration! I can't begin to explain how freeing that was to me as a young man, just coming out of adolescence into an uncertain future.

So, here, I've got an idea. Put on "In Utero" and instead of picturing him looking dour or sitting in the corner moping, look through these Pictures of Kurt Cobain Looking Happy posted by Emily Temple and just let the music take over.

Was Nirvana the last band that really mattered? There's a good case for it.

Oh, as I said, I've obsessed over some other bands since then - Judas Priest, ZZ Top and Motörhead come to mind - but their careers all began before Nirvana.

I'm not sure that's as important as the fact that when I listen to their music, I feel ecstatic and like I can conquer the world. We all need that feeling occasionally.

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